By FRANCO PANIZO
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. men's national team will face Panama in the Gold Cup once again.
After playing to a 1-1 draw through 120 minutes, Panama defeated El Salvador, 5-3, on penalty kicks in a crazy second game of Sunday night's quarterfinals doubleheader in front of a rowdy pro-El Salvador crowd at RFK Stadium.
Rodolfo Zelaya shook off missing a first-half penalty kick by converting a spot kick in the 78th minute. The Cuscatlecos would not hold on, however, as Luis Tejada knocked in a controversial goal in the waning moments of the match. It was tough to tell if the ball had crossed the goal-line in its entirety, but it was ruled a goal.
The two teams finished the wild and open affair with 10 men after Panama's Blas Perez and El Salvador captain Luis Anaya were sent off following the end of regulation. That made things even wilder in the 30 minutes of overtime, as both teams found plenty of space and chances. The most notable came in the dying seconds of the game when El Salvador defender Steve Purdy failed to pull the trigger on a shot from close range.
Following the game, both of the team's head coaches signaled out referee Walter Quesada's officiating, and not for good reasons.
"If we're going to talk about officiating, because, honestly, I didn't want to say anything, but it was very suspicious. Very suspicious," Panama coach Julio Cesar Dely Valdes said in a stern tone. "I didn't want to talk about the ref, but he was calling more for El Salvador than us. The (first) penalty kick to El Salvador was nonexistent, even the blind man in the upper stands could see it."
El Salvador coach Ruben Israel didn't seem as angry about the officiating, although he did claim that the last-gasp goal Panama scored was a "human error'.
"That's soccer. Referees make mistakes just like us coaches make mistakes," said Israel. "But it was a crucial error."
Voted Man of the Match by the media who attended the game, Zelaya agreed with his coach during the press conference. Along with also saying he'd be open to playing in MLS should the opportunity ever arise, Zelaya concurred with his coach when he said that El Salvador is disappointed with the loss but that the tournament as a whole was something to be proud of.
Valdes was also proud of his team, stating it had accomplished one of its goals by making it to the semifinals. Valdes was later asked how confident he was in Panama beating the United States for a second time this tournament, and he answered by saying he expects a different game.
"To be honest, we know it will be a different (U.S.) team," said Valdes. "We know it won't be easy."
Here are highlight's from the game:
What do you think of Panama's win over El Salvador? Think the officiating was bad? Do you see the United States beating Panama?
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